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Sunday at the Honda? Grab a lottery ticket

6 Min Read


    Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62

    Chris Kirk’s 66 gives him two-shot lead after Saturday at Honda

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Saturday nights in Florida mark a traditional date for PowerBall lottery drawings, where one lucky person’s life can change in an instant if the perfect six ping-pong balls bounce just right. Late Sunday afternoon at The Honda Classic won’t be very different.

    The leaderboard through 54 holes at PGA National’s Champion course is packed- 11 players within six of the lead– and there isn’t a name in the mix whose life might not be vastly different with a PGA TOUR victory. There are PGA TOUR veterans such as Chris Kirk, who last won in 2015 and would relish the rush of winning again. There are TOUR rookies such as Eric Cole who have won plenty elsewhere, just not at this level.

    There are youngsters either fresh off the Korn Ferry Tour (Justin Suh, the 2022 Player of the Year on that circuit) or currently playing on it (Ryan Gerard, the surprise Monday qualifier) whose careers could take a mighty leap with a triumph adjoined to a PGA TOUR card through the 2025 season.

    At PGA National come Sunday, who will possess the golden ticket?

    On Saturday, as stronger winds at PGA National finally reported to work, there was enough movement near the top to portend that a rollercoaster kind of day may await on Sunday. That was a case a year ago, when Daniel Berger’s five-shot lead to start the day was gone by the turn, and Sepp Straka came from behind to collect his first PGA TOUR triumph.

    Was Saturday’s round a gentle nudge to players to do whatever possible to hang in there, because at PGA National, home of the daunting Bear Trap, one never knows what monster lurks around the corner.

    “I already knew that, because I was the person that usually happened to, (make) a few big numbers a few times on Sundays,” said Straka, smiling, after a solid Saturday 66. “Just playing this course one time, you know there's carnage everywhere.”

    Sunday’s word of the day: Opportunity. A handful of players, including Cole, Suh, Ben Taylor and Ben An, among others, are seeking that elusive first victory, which comes with a whole package of goodies, including a berth at the Masters in April.

    Take Cole, for example, the 34-year-old TOUR rookie who went to school just down PGA Boulevard at Nova Southeastern. It took him years to get his card, but the road traveled was a worthwhile and valuable one. Sunday could be his big payoff for patience.

    Do you think Cole doesn’t have what it takes to win? He owns 56 victories– that’s right, 56– on a developmental circuit called the Minor League Golf Tour. His last victory on that tour, which came in January at nearby Abacoa Golf Club before he departed for the Sony Open in Hawaii, paid a whopping $1,500. Should he win Sunday, Cole could add three zeroes to the check: $1,512,000.

    And Cole, the son of former PGA TOUR player Bobby Cole and former LPGA player Laura Baugh (she was in his gallery on Saturday), sees no reason to think it shouldn’t be him. Winning is winning, no matter the level. As Cole so deftly points out, you can only beat the players who are in front of you.

    The last time that Cole was inside the ropes at Honda, he was a working caddie, for Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson. Cole shot 4-under 66 on Saturday, a solid effort, and will start Sunday two shots behind leader Chris Kirk, who finished birdie-birdie to match that score. PGA National has been friendly this week; Kirk is at 13-under 197 through 54 holes.

    “I mean, it's the same but it is different,” Cole said. “It's a bigger stage and stuff, but the golf ball doesn't know the difference, and I'm just going to try and keep kind of executing the way I have the first three days, and I think it should take care of itself.”

    Cole labored for a long, long time to get to the PGA TOUR, but getting there was only part of his dream. The other part was winning. Sunday, he’ll have a great chance.

    As will Suh, 25, who came out as a college hotshot from Southern Cal in a rookie class alongside Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland in 2019. Both Morikawa and Hovland won early on, with Morikawa winning the PGA Championship, his first of two majors, the following season. Suh still awaits that day.

    "It's a great opportunity," Suh said after a third-round 70 that included an eagle at the par-4 12th, where he holed an 8-iron from the fairway. "This is a historical event. I think we're all looking forward to chasing that win."

    Suh didn’t have his best day on Saturday, but fought his way to a 70 one day after a blistering 64. He couldn’t get a putt to fall. “The hole looked pretty small,” he said, managing to flash a smile. When he was done talking to the media, he walked over to a metal fence, greeted a friend of his, and said, “I think I used up all my putts yesterday.”

    Kirk, 37, owns four PGA TOUR victories, but none since winning at Colonial nearly eight years ago. It seems a lifetime ago. Know this: Kirk may not even recognize a few of the names that will be giving him chase on a very important Sunday at the very last Honda Classic, but he won’t look past them, either.

    “Anybody that makes it to the PGA TOUR is an unbelievable player,” Kirk said. “There's no doubt about that. Anybody that gets onto the Korn Ferry TOUR is an unbelievable player... yeah, I definitely am not doubting any of the young talent coming out here. It's a lot of really good young guys that hit it a lot further than me, and are playing with a lot of confidence.”

    Yes, Kirk knows the sensation of winning on the TOUR previously, and he’s in the midst of a nice season, with third-place finishes at the Sony Open on Oahu and The American Express in Palm Springs. His iron game has been strong, as it usually is, and he has a nice comfort level at PGA National, which can cause a golfer to wake up in cold sweats at 3 a.m.

    Does he have an edge in experience in Sunday? Perhaps, as does Shane Lowry, a major champion who starts four shots back, though there are no boxes on the scorecard for that. At the same time, just because Kirk has won previously, don’t think any additional win would be void of huge meaning. He isn’t in the Masters yet, for instance, so getting that secured would be timely.

    “Yeah, it's probably not that different of a feeling,” Kirk said. “It's been so long since I've won. I'm going to be plenty nervous, just as nervous as those (young) guys are probably.”

    Who will handle the nerves? Who can avoid PGA National’s lurking disasters, and tricky winds, and steer clear of all those penalty areas? Who can survive The Bear Trap unscathed?

    Why, that’ll be the guy holding up the winning lottery ticket, of course.

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